South Alligator River
I was looking through some photos the other day and it reminded me of a fun little trip the boys from Flick and Fly Journal had on the South Alligator River. I’d almost forgotten how much fun we had. We had spent the last week battling it out on the Daly. We had caught over 100 fish and spent a day recovering around Darwin. After a day chilling out, with the simple comforts of fridges, showers and beds, we were ready to do the boat camping thing all over again and decided to fish the South Alligator. Hamish and I were South Alligator virgins, and stories of birdlife, big barra and huge wetlands got us pretty excited on the 2 hour trip from Darwin.
On arriving, we met two completely drunk Pommies at the boat ramp, who had hired a guide. I think these guys had been doing more drinking than fishing – they were completely off the planet and had some serious sunburn to look forward to. Nonetheless, we managed to get some good information from them and their guide – the fish were biting and a few meteries were getting caught. Filled with enthusiasm, we nervously put the boats in the water (it’s not called the South Alligator for nothing) and headed downstream. We headed for the nearest creek, which was a few ks down the river. We fished for a while, but with no luck, and decided to head upstream.
It was good timing in the end. As we approached the bridge, it looked remarkably low. Slowing down to a crawl, we managed to slide under it with about 10cms to spare.
The sun was getting lower in the sky, and a beautiful golden glow started to shine across the river. Blissfully content and with beer in hand, we were all in good spirits until BANG! We hit something in the river and my beer started frothing almost immediately. With the 90HP getting backed off, I looked back to see a few splashes and some commotion on the bank. A crocodile? We never saw it, but it gave us all a serious jolt and won’t be forgotten in a hurry. I hope the toothy bugger was ok.
Another beer in hand, we started to near some wetlands and slowed the pace to take it all in. The trees and scrub on the bank gave way to rushes and grass, and before long, we were looking out over broad expanses of wetlands; birds everywhere, runoff everywhere, and bait everywhere. THe further up we went, the more spectacular it became. Eventually, we had reached the limit of ‘the Mothership’, and resolved to have a few casts in a creek that wasn’t much bigger than one of the south-east’s trout waters. A few casts and it became apparent that the fish were around…unfortunately, they were tiny. Every few casts we could see rat barra chasing our lures in, but were getting very few strikes. In time, we all changed to small plastics and started catching a few fish.
As it was getting dark, we decided it was time to head to one of the bigger creeks to set up for the night. Back downsteam a few ks, and we found a fishy looking spot. Anchoring up, we had some dinner and cast poppers and divers around, but with no luck. At about 7pm, as the last of the light was sinking beneath the horizon, we heard that sound. You think it’s a small truck coming down a nearby highway. All of a sudden the air darkens, and a million mosquitoes and moths descend on you like a boeing 747. Out came the themacells, which provided some relief, but it was one of those swarms that is hard to forget. After half an hour, the swarm gave way to persistent waves, and we drank beer and rum as we watched mosquitoes and moths fall out of the sky in response to the three thermacells we now had burning away at strategic locations in the boat.
At this stage, I think we were all feeling a bit downtrodden. We had fished the Daly for consistent results, and were probably silently regretting the decision to spend another night trying to sleep on the water. Eventually we bedded down. There were four smelly men on one boat. Hamish was curled up under the swivel seats and the others were like sardines across the deck. I was getting bitten through the mozzie net, and as I dozed off, I knew it would be a tough night. I woke up at about 3am to a strange grating noise. What the fuck was that? I thought to myself as I grabbed my torch. Shining it around and batting mozzies away, I could see eyes on every bank. Shit. But it wasn’t the bankside crocs I was worried about – it was whatever was playing with the anchor rope.
After 5 minutes of sitting up and shining the torch around, I resolved that I was one of four croc dinners and I’d be pretty unlucky to get eaten, so I managed to go back to sleep and dreamed of crushing jaws, muddy water, submarine snags and pin pricks (mozzies).
Morning! What a delight. I think the other guys had had a similarly disturbed night, and we were up early and decided to head up to a nice rockbar that we had spotted the day before. It was to be the spot for the entire day. We set up camp there and before 10am, were joined by at least 5 other boats. We thought that this was probably a good sign, and despite losing our solitude, we were happy to have some other croc and mosquito targets in the river with us.
It didn’t take long to start catching fish. We were anchored up under an overhanging tree and every few drops to the bottom we were getting hits or fish. And they were good fish – I think the smallest was about 65 and the biggest pushing 80. At around 9am we were joined by Liam, who I thought I had never met, but it turns out we went to school together. Small world eh!
Liam arrived in his little ‘Red Rocket’, which to me, seemed a ridiculously small boat for the Territory’s big rivers. HTis thing only sat about 30cm out of the water, and I was grateful he wasn’t here during the night, as I was convinced he would have been croc shit.
Liam and Dan started trolling while we sat in the same spot. Everyone was catching fish, and we saw a few potential meteries getting caught.
For some strange reason, the mosquitoes decided to come out again, and after 20 minutes or so, Hamish finally lost his shit. 5 nights on the daly and one on the South Alligator, and that was enough. On the Daly we had only encountered night-mozzies, but the day-mozzies were too much to handle. Hamish had had enough. As the day-mozzies prefered the shade, he went and sat on the bow in full tropical sun, beer and cigarette in hand, and proceeded to slap his face randomly amidst uttrances of ‘fuck-off’, ‘shit-balls’ and other words probably best not said on our family friedly blog. I was struggling too, but the odd big barra was keeping me entertaned, as was Liam and Dan’s trolling efforts, which were paying off consistently.
Eventually, we decded to call it, and headed back to civilization while the tide was big enough to get back under the bridge. It was getting dark, and as we approached the bridge, I was pleased to see that we would probably fit underneath. All of a sudden, I saw some ‘foam’ on the water, and motioned to Mitch to wash off a few ks. He obliged, but moments later, we had beached ourselves on a large sandbar. SHIT was the call, and we stupidly ran to the front of the boat to try to keep the prop off the sand, then realised we needed to be at the back so we could actually try and slide off. I was contemplating a night at 45 degrees, surrounded by crocs, but we somehow managed to slide off. Relief. Back to the boat ramp.
An awesome trip in the end. Funny how you tend to remember the scary parts…I started writing this thinking about the big fish, beautiful wildlife and stunning scenery. There are often a few things that go wrong, but I guess it’s how you react to them, and then remember the overall experience, that make it worth it. A few bities and the odd averted boat tragedy pail into insignificance when you remember the birds, barra and humour in it all.
Thanks for reading 🙂